Winter Waters
Bring Giant Thrills

  • Whale watching in Virginia Beach is more exciting than ever

    When there’s a chill in the air, there just might be a thrill in the water. As great Atlantic cetaceans make their yearly migrations, they can be seen just off our coast – and often lingering to take advantage of our food-rich waters. Every winter, the promise of a sighting makes for some sweet anticipation, and recently the whales have been playing to satisfied onlookers.

    Set sail with one of the boat trip operators for an excursion off the coast of Virginia Beach in search of winter wildlife, and you never know what you might encounter. Maybe three humpbacks breezing by. A large group of dolphins coasting along. An elusive fin whale allowing itself to be viewed. A humpback making a show of its bubble netting as it feeds, another breaching to the oohs and ahhs of a thrilled crowd. From your boat, you’ll have a chance to get close to some of nature’s most wondrous and awe-inspiring creatures, and learn what brings them to Virginia Beach waters.

    Take advantage of cool season adventure by customizing your own getaway around a Winter Wildlife Boat Trip. Take your pick of hotels offering special whale watching packages and get in on all the fun before it’s over – our whale friends won’t be hanging around forever!

  • Seven Winter Wildlife Show-offs in Virginia Beach

    Winter Wildlife

    When you embark on a  Winter Wildlife Boat Trip in Virginia Beach, you're entering an offshore world that's home to an exclusive crowd: migrating species of birds and marine mammals enjoying our food-rich waters. While you may encounter whales or harbor seals as they peek out from the ocean, it's the interesting behaviors of our winter waterfowl visitors that are sure to give you a thrill. So bundle up and get ready to witness a sky full of winter show-offs.

    Low Gliders

    Flying in V-formation low above the water offers winter wildfowl a, ahem, birds-eye view of what's for dinner. Small groups of the huge and stocky brown pelican fly in fairly well organized lines, propelled by the slow deep beats of their broad wings. Maybe less elegant in motion but just as thrilling to see are the double-crested cormorants and great cormorants who winter in Virginia Beach. With heavy bodies, small heads, an S-shaped neck and wide wingspan, they fly with labored wing beats creating irregular shaped lines.

    Plunge Divers

    Once they spot their prey, winter waterfowl really make a splash going after it. You'll spy the plunge diving feeding behavior of a number of species who feast on schools of fish in Virginia Beach waters. While many species dive alone, northern gannets often plunge dive as a flock, with hundreds of birds diving from up to 130 feet in the air, diving to depths as deep as 72 feet and swimming for fish.

    Headfirst Daredevils

    In Virginia Beach, you can see the brown pelican put on a spectacular show, diving headfirst from as far as 65 feet above the water, tucking its head and rotating its body to be able to withstand the impact. Hitting the surface with a splash so big you might mistake it for a whale spout, the brown pelican's throat pouch expands and fills with up to 2.6 gallons of water to take in small schooling fish near the surface. You're seeing something truly rare - the brown pelican and the Peruvian pelican are the only pelican species to perform headfirst dives.

    Meal Sharers

    Once it's taken in a couple of gallons of fish and ocean water, the brown pelican pauses on the surface to allow water to drain from its pouch before finishing its meal. Look for smaller birds to swoop in and take care of the leftovers. Gulls can even be seen trying to steal the fish right out of the pelican's pouch.

    Distant Relatives

    Look closely, and you may spy a sea gull that's anything but common. With a distinctive yellow bill with red and black rings at the tip, the black-tailed gull is a rare visitor to Virginia Beach from East Asia. Its white head, gray back and wing-tops along with a prominent dark band just above the white tail tip distinguish the black-tailed gull from its more familiar gull cousins. Another rare but regular visitor to Virginia Beach is the little gull, the smallest gull species in the world and common across Eurasia. You'll know it by its pale gray back and wings with white wingtips.

    After-Dinner Sunbathers

    Sometimes after a big meal, all you want to do is chill. After diving for fish, the double-crested cormorant is sometimes seen perched on a piling or other structure, standing in the sun with its wings spread wide. It's not just showing off its gangly, pterodactyl-looking wingspan; because the cormorant's feathers have less preen oil than other birds and don't shed water easily, it's hanging out to dry off in the sun.

    World Travelers

    Just like you, visiting winter wildfowl are drawn to Virginia Beach to socialize and find sustenance. You won't see many of these species inland, and you won't see them here all year-round. Migration brings visiting species close to our shores from late fall to late winter, so catch them while you can. Two tour operators offer  Winter Wildlife Boat Trips in Virginia Beach, helmed by experienced wildlife seekers to deliver a thrilling ocean experience. 

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